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LESSONS FROM THE LUDDITE S

Read's serves to pierce industrialism at its core, and he goes on to make the point that "only such people will so contrive and control those machines that their products are an enhancement of biological needs, and not a denial of them."

What happens when an economy is not embedded in a due regard for the natural world, understanding and coping with the full range of its consequences to species and their ecosystems, is not only that it wreaks its harm throughout the biosphere in indiscriminate and ultimately unsustainable ways, though that is bad enough. It also loses its sense of the human as a species and the individual as an animal, needing certain basic physical elements for survival, including land and air, decent food and shelter, intact communities and nurturing families, without which it will perish as miserably as a fish out of water, a wolf in a trap. An economy without any kind of ecological grounding will be as disregardful of the human members as of the It would take one far more deluded than those wishful Luddites to dream today that there was any real possibility of a revolution against any advanced industrial nation. non-human, and its social as well as its economic forms - factories, tenements, cities, hierarchies - will reflect that.

Since technology is, by its very essence, artificial - that is, not natural, a human construct not otherwise found in nature, where there is no technology - it tends to distance humans from their environment and set them in opposition to it. And the larger and more powerful it becomes, the greater is that distance and opposition: "The artificial world", as Jacques Ellul puts it, "is radically different from the natural world," with different imperatives, different directives and different laws" such that "it destroys, eliminates, or subordinates the natural world." At this point, technology is able to so completely overwhelm that natural world as to threaten its continued existence, and unless the technosphere re-establishes some connectedness to the biosphere it seems certain to carry out that threat.

4. The nation state, intertwined with industrialism, will always come to its aid and defence, making revolt futile and reform ineffectual. The industrial system, with the power of the dominant nationstates, has extended itself to every corner of the Earth. It does not care in the least what kinds of state those are, as long as the cadres that run them understand the duties expected of them, and thus can accommodate itself to almost any national system - Marxist Russia, capitalist Japan, China under a vicious die- si r tator, Singapore under a benevolent one, messy and riven India, tidy and cohesive Norway, Jewish Israel, Moslem Malaysia - and in return asks g|g only that its priorities dominate, its market rule, its values penetrate, and its interests be defended, with troops i f necessary, be it in Iraq or in Kosovo.

Some among the Luddites might have entertained a dream that the British government could be overthrown - "shake off the hateful Yoke of a Silly Old Man, and his Son more silly 3 and their Rogueish Ministers" - but it | didn't take long to show the hollowness £

of that. And since then there has not been a fully industrialised nation in the world that has had a successful rebellion against it, which says something telling about the synergy of industrialism and the nation-state. It would take one far more deluded than those wishful Luddites to dream today that there was any real possibility of a revolution against any advanced industrial nation.

Nor, from historical experience, would it seem to make much difference to the imposition of the industrial regime even i f it was. Such revolutions as have succeeded in the last two centuries in pre-industrial (or marginally industrial) states have only paved the way for the introduction of industrialism, whether of the authoritarian (Russia, Cuba etc.) or of a nationalistic (India, Nigeria, etc.) mould. And even where opposition to Western hegemony has been most fierce - the Soviet Union, China, parts of the Moslem world - opposition to Western technologies has been negligible.

5. Resistance to the industrial system, based on moral principles and moral revulsion, is not only possible, but necessary. What remains of the upheaval of Luddism after all the particulars fade is the truth that Charlotte Bronte saw in her youth: "The throes of a sort of moral earthquake were felt heaving under the hills of the northern counties," and it was an acting out of a genuinely-felt perception of right and wrong that went down deep into the English soul. Such a challenge is mounted not because one is certain of victory - I doubt the Luddites had any such clear idea, whatever the brashness and bluster of their letters - but because somewhere in the blood, in the place deep within where pain and fear and anger intersect, one is finally moved to refusal and defiance: no more. Gandhi says somewhere that the core of the savoradaya movement was simply the need to speak the truth, not to prevail, not to oust British colonialism and its native satrapies". You can never know about success, he said - and the wretched "success" of Indian independence under the Congress party underscores that wisdom - all you can know about is right and wrong, truth and falsity. Hence the actions of individuals as of movements, insofar as there is freedom to act at all, must be impelled out of a sense of urgency, and tragedy, and necessity, not out of any sense of victory. "There is a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can't take part," is the way that Mario Savio put it before the nascent

student movement at Berkeley, California in 1964. "And you've got to put your bodies upon the levers, upon all the apparatus. ^^^• ^ and you've got to make it stop."

It is in this context that the role of violence should appropriately fall. As a tactic, the Luddites discovered, it is extremely effective, up to a point, but extremely limited, and the point at which it calls down the potent wrath of authority and turns off the allegiance of neighbours is pretty quickly reached. There was probably no other effective way than machine-breaking for the weavers to Sv// ^ have made their case, quickly and forceS fully, to demonstrate to local manufactur­

ers and to London Ministers the seriousness of their plight. But it is difficult to maintain that tactic in a highmoral context, to take a high ground of

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The Ecologist, Vol. 29, No 5, August/September 1999 LESSONS FROM THE LUDDITE S

principle by means of the low tools of destruction and fear, even i f the ends do seem to justify the means, and it is more difficult still i f one moves on to arson and assassination.

No imaginable amount of dissent and opposition, however dramatic and evocative, at whatever level of violence, can be expected to have any but the most temporary and localised effect against the citadel of high-tech industrialism and its protective state. Al l it can do - but this it must - is to try again and again to draw attention to the well springs of that dissent, the agony from which its opposition stems, so that somewhere in the collective memory of the society the essential truths are kept alive and the slow waves of erosion kept in motion. George Grant, the Canadian philosopher, has put the task this way: 'The darkness which envelops the Western world because of its long dedication to the overcoming of chance" by which he means the triumph of the scientific mind - "is just a fact... The job of thought in our time is to bring into the light that darkness as darkness."

6. Resistance to industrialism must ultimately be embedded in an analysis - better, a philosophy that is widely shared and carefully articulated. One of the failures of Luddism (if at first perhaps one of its strengths) was its formlessness, its unintentionality, its indistinctness about goals, desires, possibilities. Movements acting out of rage and outrage are often that way, of course, and for a while there is power and momentum in those alone; but for durability they are not enough, they do not sustain a commitment that lasts through the adversities of repression and trials, they do not forge a solidarity that prevents the infiltration of spies and stooges, they do not engender strategies and tactics that adapt to shifting conditions and adversaries, and they do not develop analyses that make clear the nature of the enemy and the alternatives to put in its place.

Now, it would be difficult to think that neo-Luddite resisIndustrialism, the ethos containing the values and technologies of Western civilisation, is the problem, and is not, nor does it contain, the solutions. tance, whatever form it takes, would be able to overcome all those difficulties, particularly on a national or international scale; commitment and solidarity are mostly products of faceto-face, day-to-day interactions, unities of purpose that come from unities of place. But i f it is to be anything more than sporadic and martyristic, neo-Luddism can learn from the Luddite experience at least how important it is to work out some common analysis that is morally clear about the problematic present and the desirable future, and the common strategies that stem from it.

All the elements of such an analysis, it seems to me, are in existence, scattered and unrefined, perhaps, but they are out there: in Mumford and Schumacher and Wendell Berry and Jerry Mander and the Chellis Clendinning neo-Luddite manifesto; in the writings of the EarthFirsters and the bioregionalists and deep ecologists; in the lessons and models of the Amish and the Dine and the Irokwa; in the wisdom of tribal elders and the legacy of tribal experience everywhere; in the work of the long line of dissenters-from-progress and naysayers-to-technology. I think we might even be able to identify some essentials of it, such as: INDUSTRIALISM, the ethos containing the values and technologies of Western civilisation, is the problem, and is not, nor

does it contain, the solutions. ANTHROPOCENTRISM, and its expression in both humanism and monotheism, is the ruling principle of that civilisation, to which must be opposed the principle of biocentrism and the spiritual identification of the human with all living species and systems. GLOBALISM, and its expression economically and militarily, is the guiding strategy of that civilisation, to which must be opposed the strategy of localism, based upon the empowerment of the coherent bioregion and the small community. INDUSTRIAL CAPITALISM, as an economy built upon the exploitation and degradation of the Earth, is the productive and distributive enterprise of that civilisation, to which must be opposed the practices of an ecological and sustainable economy of simple living and modest proportions.

A movement of resistance starting with just those principles as the sinews of its analysis might not ever have a chance of 'success', whatever that would look like, but at least it would know where it stood and what it wanted to do. It would at least be able to bring the darkness into the light.

7. The industrial civilisation so well served by its potent technologies cannot last, and will not last: its collapse is certain within not more than a few decades. The two strains pulling that civilisation apart, environmental overload and social dislocation, are both the necessary and inescapable results of an industrial civilisation. In some sense, to be sure, they are the results of any civilisation: the record of history suggests that every single preceding civilisation has perished, no matter where or how long it has been able to flourish, as a result of a sustained assault on its environment, usually resulting in soil loss, flooding, and starvation, and a successive distention of its social strata, usually resulting in rebellion, warfare, and secession. Civilisations, and the empires that give them shape, may achieve much of use and merit - or so the subsequent civilisations' historians would have us believe - but they seem unable to appreciate scale or limits, and in their growth and turgidity cannot maintain balance and continuity within or without. Industrial civilisation is different only in that it is now much larger and more powerful than any known before, by geometric differences in all dimensions, and its collapse will be far more extensive and thoroughgoing, far more calamitous.

It is by no means certain that the human species will survive that collapse. I f industrialism proceeds as it has for the last 50 years, with only the modest kinds of environmental reforms it has mustered thus far, it seems certain to destroy one or more of the species' essential life-support systems and condemn itself to extinction. But i f it happens that some numbers survive and the planet is not sufficiently inhospitable, they might well find use in that body of lore that instructs them in how thereafter to live in harmony with nature - how to serve Read's apprenticeship with nature - and how and why to fashion their technologies with the restraints and values of nature intertwined, seeking not to conquer and dominate and control nature, for the failure of industrialism will have taught the folly of that, but rather to understand and obey and love and incorporate nature.

That body of lore is what it is the task of the neo-Luddites, armed with the past, to prepare, to preserve, and to provide, for such future generations as may be.D Kirkpatrick Sale is the author of eight books, including Rebels Against the Future: The Luddites and their War on the Industrialised Revolution.

The Ecologist, Vol. 29, No 5, August/September 1999

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